Navigating your Veterinary Non-Compete Agreement

Ross Zimmerman January 18, 2024 Financial FreedomHow to Roo Share

Roo does not require Relief Veterinarians to sign a non-compete clause to work through our platform, and we never will!

Non-compete clauses can be intimidating — a veterinary education doesn’t cover contract law, why should it? No one even really talks about this until, very often, vets find themselves signed and locked in. So let’s pull back the curtain and take a look inside: 

What does your non-compete mean for you? How does your non-compete affect your ability to work relief shifts? And most importantly, what are the best ways to navigate your non-compete without running into trouble? 

What is a veterinary non-compete clause?

A non-compete clause is usually just a short paragraph buried in your employment contract somewhere that typically consists of two pieces: “Distance” and “Time.”  

It probably looks something like this:  

For X years (Time), you can’t perform similar services within X miles (Distance).

The exact wording will vary from state to state and practice to practice, but that’s the gist of it. If you leave your current veterinary clinic, whether you quit or are let go, a non-compete means you may have to practice in a different area for a while.  

The “Time” piece is pretty straightforward. The clock starts when you quit or are let go, and when the amount of time specified has passed, the non-compete no longer has any effect on you — you can once again practice wherever you want.

The “Distance” is just a circle on a map centered on the clinic where you used to work. Inside the circle, you can’t practice until your specified time period has ended. Outside the circle, you’re free to work during this time. It’s important to differentiate this from driving distance. Distance is typically measured “as the crow flies” or in a simple radius. This means in urban areas where traffic routes are very often not straight lines, the mileage you need to drive to work may be greater than the distance defined in your contract. Please blame the lawyers, not the crows.  

This is where Roo can actually provide some help. We know it’s not the best situation, but if you find yourself looking for work between jobs, you can search for Roo shifts using map view to confirm you’re outside your required radius. Roo actually uses Google Maps, which makes this super easy: In Google Maps, you can right click on any location and select “Measure Distance” to see exactly where your distance requirement falls. You’ll have to open two windows, but the Roo shift map will be an exact match of what you’re looking at in Google Maps.   

Your non-compete may also limit what veterinary services you can provide to competing businesses during your employment with varying definitions for what “veterinary services” or “competing businesses” means. If you want to work relief part-time while under a non-compete, this is where we need to dive a little deeper. 

Does my non-compete limit relief work?

Say you’ve signed a non-compete agreement at your current veterinary clinic, but you find yourself in a position where you need to make a little extra. Legally, your home hospital can only give you so many shifts or may be unwilling to provide OT. So to earn more, you often have to look elsewhere, and relief work is a great way to make money doing what you’re great at! But does this violate your non-compete? The answer lies in the details of that short paragraph in your contract. 

In many cases, non-competes may not limit relief work at all, and some contracts may even explicitly allow relief work. But sometimes, relief work isn’t mentioned or it may be defined by your contract in complicated ways. That’s where things can get a bit trickier to interpret.  

Another area to look for is cross-specialty work. In some cases, GP vets can freely work emergency shifts and vice versa as these businesses aren’t in direct competition. Shelter shifts are often fair play, and some contracts may even explicitly allow non-profit or volunteer work, which you can also find on Roo’s platform.  

However, it all comes down to the precise wording of your contract. A lot of these veterinary non-compete clauses are written extremely broadly, which means they could technically cover things like relief work even if that’s not their intended purpose so it’s important to read your contract carefully. 

Relief language to look for in your contract

In your contract, look for terms like “contract work” or “1099 work” as these apply to the work you might do through relief services like Roo. Relief work may be explicitly allowed or not allowed in your contract. Some contracts get so specific they may even limit the number of relief shifts you can take! 

Where it gets trickier is if your contract doesn’t mention relief work at all. In these situations, you want to look at how broadly the non-compete is written. Here are a few more terms to look out for: 

  • “Perform similar services” 
  • “Perform equivalent services”
  • “Perform like services”
  • “Perform the duties of a veterinarian”
  • The term “Indirectly” 

If your contract includes one of these umbrella terms, you’ll want to get further clarity. It may prohibit all veterinary work outside your hospital even if that work is only part-time/temporary (relief work) or not generating any revenue (shelter work/volunteer work). Then again, there may be carve outs for these things. Your contract is unique so really what it all comes down to is:   

Always make sure you fully understand your contract

If you’re not sure what something means, have a conversation with your practice manager. It’s okay to ask if a particular action is allowed or not. Then, you don’t have to live with the anxiety of uncertainty.  

Communication is the cure

We can wade around in legal jargon all day (it’s a yucky pool, on par with most water parks I’ve been to), but ultimately, the simplest solution is clear, open communication with your practice manager. This can happen both before you’ve signed your contract to get clarity on what the expectations are or after you’ve signed to gain the freedom you need to practice confidently without fear.

Remember, practice managers are people too. No matter how gigantic the corporate hospital group, there’s probably a manager you interact with daily who very likely cares about your well-being. A conversation can be a great place to start.

In the end, a non-compete is only words on paper unless your veterinary hospital decides to enforce it. And no one wants that, not even the hospital. If you have a question or if something comes up that may be a concern, have that conversation with your practice manager. 

Here are some unique situations that may come up, which you’re probably not thinking about when you’re first starting out at a new hospital: 

  • Need to pick up a relief shift to earn extra income due to unforeseen expenses or to save up for a large purchase?
  • Want to know if it’s okay to volunteer at a local shelter?
  • Want to try a shift at an emergency clinic to learn some new skills?
  • Want to work a shift at another hospital to see how things are done elsewhere and gain perspective?
  • Want to work a shift while you’re traveling? (You’re probably beyond your contract’s distance anyway, but it’s still good to ask)

For all of the above, there’s a relief app for that (winks in kangaroo). 

More importantly, these are things that can be discussed with your practice manager. If you get the thumbs up from them, your non-compete is nothing to be afraid of. “You can typically ask your hospital about doing relief work, and often they’ll say yes,” says Dr. Andrew Findlaytor.

Explain where you’re coming from and why this experience will be meaningful for you financially, educationally, or for your own wellbeing. If you already have a good relationship, they’re very likely to support you. 

Furthermore, for all of the above, these experiences could even make you a better veterinarian or reduce stress/improve your mental health, which — you guessed it — makes you a better veterinarian! It’s a win for the hospital as well, especially if you’re coming back with new skills or knowledge, and you should make sure your practice manager understands that when you talk with them. 

For professional advice, seek an employment lawyer 

If you want definitive answers on your contract, a good person to talk to to get professional advice is an employment lawyer. A contract lawyer can be helpful too, but if you’re having other workplace issues that have you considering whether to leave your current practice, an employment lawyer tends to be the better choice.

If you’d prefer peer support, Roo is happy to work with you to find veterinary shifts that don’t violate your contract, although we can’t offer professional advice. As it turns out, our education didn’t include contract law either, and most of the people you’ll talk to are former vets and techs so we’re pretty much all in the same boat. We do have veterinarians on staff who have worked under similar contracts in the past and would love to speak with you about your specific situation.

Feel free to reach out to [email protected], and we’ll support you in every way we can!

Roo stands for veterinary freedom

Roo’s mission, from our founding to today, is to improve the veterinary healthcare industry for the people who make it special, and at the forefront of this is the emotional well-being of veterinarians everywhere. This is why Roo has always maximized freedom for all our relief professionals in every way imaginable. This especially means we’ll never ever ever make our relief vets sign a non-compete clause that limits them from working elsewhere, EVEN if that’s with other relief services. Because that’s your decision to make.  

Unfortunately, sometimes non-competes can make veterinarians feel trapped in a bad situation, which has the unintended effect of making a bad mental health situation worse. In these situations, we highly recommend you seek professional support from both a mental health professional and an employment lawyer.

Today, we’ve done our best to illuminate this very sensitive issue. We know we haven’t provided all the answers because, very often, the answers are unclear. We do hope we’ve given you some tools to help inform your decision making and a path forward for those who feel stuck. 

If you’re feeling trapped in a bad situation, please reach out. We’d love to help. 

Disclaimer time!

Any advice provided here is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional legal advice (my brother is the lawyer of the family). If you have questions about your non-compete, we recommend speaking with your hospital management first and seeking an employment lawyer if needed. 

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